There’s no doubt things have changed for college student-athletes.
Some have had the majority of their season wiped out as COVID-19 continues to spread, forcing the cancelation of any activities by conferences all around the country. Others have missed out on the chance to play for a championship while others wonder what is still to come.
For Michigan State’s football team, the shutdown came just as it was about to begin spring practice. It’s a critical time for any team, but with a new coaching staff, every practice is vital. Building a working relationship is important and with players scattered around the country spending the downtime at home, it has made things challenging for the Spartans and first-year coach Mel Tucker.
But the players are making the most of it, working out with whatever they have around the house and pushing each other to stay focused even as they adjust to a new normal.
“Some guys have better things than others but we’ve been really good at just like adapting to the situation,” said offensive lineman Matt Allen, who will be a fifth-year senior this fall. “I know guys like AJ Arcuri, he's been working out in his little like home gym in his parents’ garage four days a week and he's using cinder blocks and like a wooden broomstick to squat and bench, things like that. And then we have a team group chat and there's guys like Dom(inique) Long that have been sending in ton of stuff. He’s been buying gallon water bottles and every week he keeps adding more and more gallons to the rack that he's using.
“I was a little nervous at first what we’d be able to do but everybody's been posting videos in our group chat just to make sure everybody's staying accountable and everybody's been getting their work done. So it's really good to see.”
Allen is back home in Hinsdale, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He’s got it better than most because his brother, Jack, is there to help him workout.
Jack Allen, of course, is the former All-American at Michigan State who played in the NFL. Brother Brian, another former Spartan who plays for the Los Angeles Rams, is in California rehabbing from an injury and the brothers’ parents are in Florida. That means Matt and Jack are on their own and they’re spending their time keeping Matt on task for whenever he can get back on the field.
“It's helped a ton,” Matt Allen said of having his brother around. “We have like our own little blocking pads here at the house and we'll just go right outside the door and (workout). … He’ll watch my feet while I'm going through stuff and watch my hands while I’m going through stuff. In just these two weeks I've already felt the improvement in my step and in my run blocking. It already feels a lot firmer and I'm just thankful that I have him as a brother so that he could be here for me in this time of need, and I'm just going to squeeze out as much of them as I can. Hopefully, he doesn’t start to get too tired of me because I'm just gonna keep pounding on him for him to help me strive to get better every day.”
It’s a similar scenario for linebacker Antjuan Simmons.
An emerging leader for the Spartans entering his senior season, Simmons bought as much workout equipment as he could and spends most of his time doing schoolwork online, attending online team meetings and working out with his brother.
He’s also communicating with his teammates as best he can to keep everyone on task.
“It's a little bit more personal responsibility,” Simmons said, “as far as taking care of everything you're supposed to be, going and doing your classes or working out, running when you need to. So it’s been important for me just setting the tone make sure guys know if our plans are to win a championship to make sure we're all still working and making these next few months as if was our best offseason.”
While the players continue to come up with unique workouts, the strength staff led by new coach Jason Novak is working hard to keep everyone up to speed.
It’s an adjustment after the retirement of longtime strength coach Ken Mannie, but Simmons is excited about where things are going.
“We all love coach Novak, we’re all happy he’s here,” Simmons said. “I think we were really just starting to scratch the surface of what he was trying to do with us. We were just starting to get comfortable with the whole strength staff, with all the new faces. I think they were getting real comfortable as well and I felt like we were really about to take off and really spring out there.”
The hope for the Spartans is that when they get back, it will be a seamless transition. They understand all teams are dealing with the same obstacles, but they’re trying to only see the positives.
“With the new coaches coming (it’s brought) a little bit of life to everybody in the program,” Allen said. “It’s kind of like a new start for everybody in the program. So everybody's working like they're the guy and they're the guy to beat. I think it's really lit a fire under everybody and everybody's been coming to work every day.
“Everybody that I've been talking to has been telling me about their workouts and stuff and still got that fire and that passion in them. So I'm excited for what's to come this fall.”